Poem: City of Words

“One day, all this will be a city.”

This is what we tell each other –

As we work, and when we rest,

Before we go to bed at nights;

During meals, or those long treks to the forest.

“One day,” we say. And we smile.

We picture ourselves standing back,

Watching, as our tents pull themselves up from the mud and dirt,

Rise into towers,

Tall and glorious against the empty sky.

As the river bends around us

And the woods bow down in recognition.

As we grow steadily from nothing.

“All this will be a city.”

The words are passed between us,

Shared out, but reservedly,

As if they are rations, like the food and medicine,

Always on the verge of running out.

We build up supplies of them,

Wear our words like armour

Against the wilderness and the unknown.

And when things get too much, we hide in them;

Wrap up warm beneath the metaphors and imagery,

And stay down there until it passes.

But some nights,

When the wind and the wolves run howling past our tents;

When shadows stroll into the settlement

And the icy waters of the river seem to surround us;

Some nights, our words are powerless,

Just a jumble of well chosen letters

Which break down around us.

And what we are left with is not a city:

Words have not tamed the land,

Have not fooled it the way they have fooled us.

We perch by the edges of the forest,

And hope that it will not notice us,

Isolated and unstable,

Naked against the outside world.


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